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Embracing the commitment of long-term fostering

Wednesday 13 July 2022

Long-term fostering is when a court has decided that fostering is the long-term plan for a child. In this case, a permanency panel has agreed a match for permanency in a particular fostering placement.

The placement can continue for years – sometimes well over a decade. Foster children become part of the family and the foster parent/foster child relationship often endures way beyond the duration of the fostering placement.

The compassion and love that our foster carers bring to their role is breath-taking in its generosity. Here’s more about why and how they decide that long-term foster care is a commitment they want to make – and how it’s good for everyone involved.

Why carers like long-term fostering

Ella Booth is a Supervising Social Worker at Fostering Solutions, a National Fostering Group agency. She explained that long-term fostering is what most foster carers are interested in. “The majority of foster carers are interested in long term placements,” she said.

“They’re interested in forming a bond, in creating a family experience for the child, of loving the child, of being able to make a real positive impact on their lives. It’s an emotional investment.”

Long-term fostering isn’t possible or suitable for everyone – for example, you might not be able to work full time outside the home. But there are several different types of fostering and there’s high demand for short-term, emergency and respite foster care.

Short-term vs long-term

“There are more people interested in long-term foster care than short-term or emergency, though all kinds are in demand,” Ella said.

“Sometimes, a foster carer who was providing emergency or respite care will say they want to move into long-term fostering because the job satisfaction is perceived as high. But short-term placements will still suit some foster carers.”

This is a problem for Ella and her team – there’s often a shortage of foster carers able to provide respite care, which is where a foster child regularly stays with another foster carer for short periods, like weekends.

“They’re interested in forming a bond, in creating a family experience for the child, of loving the child, of being able to make a real positive impact on their lives. It’s an emotional investment.”

“Respite care is often the difference between a challenging foster placement working and not,” Ella said. “It makes foster family life work in difficult situations – nobody burns out and everyone gets what they need.

“Respite carers are surprisingly hard to find but it makes such a difference. This type of foster care allows bigger things to happen. They play themselves down as if they’re not as important, but this isn’t the case at all! And some become long term foster carers – so we keep losing them as respite carers – though we do gain them as long term foster carers!”

On a national level, there’s a shortfall of around 8,000 foster carers, who are needed to provide homes for children in need of a foster family for short periods as well as long-term placements.

Long-term fostering provides great outcomes

Long-term foster care is about creating a family experience, though there is a distinction between parenting your birth children and parenting foster children. This is where training and support come in.

●       All National Fostering Group foster carers can access as much free training as they want in topics that are useful and in their area of interest.

●       All foster carers are supported by their local agency team with weekly calls, supervisory visits and access to additional support and expertise if it’s needed, including a 24/7 helpline.

“A sign of success to me is if a placement feels like a family environment, rather than a childcare situation,” Ella said.

“Most foster children don’t call their foster parents mum and dad, though some do. And while it’s different to being a parent, as social workers it’s important to us that it feels like a family.”

The power of love

The ability to create a long-term stable, safe environment where a child can flourish is immensely satisfying for foster carers. For the looked-after children – the majority of whom have experienced abuse and neglect – it’s a place of healing where they can grow into their full potential.

“Our foster carers have a lot of love to give,” Ella said. “The majority of our foster children have experienced being let down by their care-givers. It’s beautiful to see the trust build between a foster carer and their foster child, and everything that flows from that.

“Some children exhibit particularly challenging behaviours but their long-term foster carers are truly committed to them. I’ve seen amazing things happen – troubled children, who are trying to process and heal from trauma, who have grown up into wonderful young people thanks to the love and care they receive from their foster carers.”

“The truth is that yes, our foster carers are very committed. They love their foster children.”

“One fostering couple have moved to a bigger house so they could keep siblings together and continue looking after them. It was a completely natural, matter-of-fact decision for them – and heart-warming to see.

“When we introduce someone to the idea of long term fostering, we’re realistic – ‘here’s an adorable 8 year old. In 4 years, they won’t be as cute and their behaviour might be really challenging. Will you still feel committed?’

“The truth is that yes, our foster carers are very committed. They love their foster children.”

What does it take to be a foster carer?

If you’re wondering who can foster, National Fostering Group welcomes applications from people of all ethnic, cultural and religious backgrounds, physical abilities and the LGBT+ community. You can be single, married, a homeowner or a tenant. Your ability to care for and nurture a child is what really matters.

“Some foster carers have had kids, some have not,” said Ella. “Some are empty nesters, some still have kids at home or are close to nieces and nephews. Some have worked with children.

“I have a small group of foster carers who are women over 50 who are single and have never had children. They want to experience parenting through fostering, and they have a lot of love to give.

“All foster carers need to get on board with therapeutic fostering – it isn’t like caring for your own, and the fact that many foster children have experienced trauma is an additional factor.

“For example, some things they do with their own children, they can’t do with a foster child because it might be a trigger for anxiety or trauma. Even simple things like rewards charts or time out might feel overwhelming or worrying to a child overcoming the effects of abuse or neglect.

“But our training and levels of support give foster carers everything they need to do a great job. This is what I really love about National Fostering Group – I value the support we offer. It makes a big difference knowing there’s someone at the end of the phone 24/7, whenever you need them.

How do you become a foster carer?

National Fostering Group provides fostering opportunities across all areas of the UK. To find out more or start your application, get in touch.

Find out if you could be a foster carer
Find out if you could be a foster carer
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